As dusk falls, L.N street in Kottamedu wakes up. There is a flurry of activity near Ponvila Hall, run by Jamath Fort mosque, that throws its doors open to all the residents for the iftar feast.
There is a beeline for the nombu kanji. According to the residents, “this hot steaming kanji can make both a millionaire and pauper happy”. Women, take them back home in tumblers. “This is the time when children return from school. They will be famished. A hot bowl of kanji is what they need,” says Khamarunnisa.
Inside, K.H.Ismail, the president of the mosque committee, lovingly called “Thalaivar” by his friends, distributes the bowls around. Once he makes sure that food has reached every table, he settles down to eat. “Do not waste even a morsel,” Ismail tells a group of school boys. The iftar platter consists of idlis, dosais, pudheena chutney, tomato sammandi and dates. The hall plunges into silence as everyone concentrates on their food. We share our kanjis, pass around the vadais and fruits, and drink from a common tumbler of water. “An iftar meal promotes the sense of togetherness. This is the only time of the year, where we actually sit together and share a meal. It is special,” says Ismail.
Kottamedu has over 1,000 Muslim families, with a good mix of Hindus and Christians. “There are at least five temples in this area. During the nombu time, we gift biryani packs and nombu kanjis to our Hindu and Christian neighbours. During auspicious days like Diwali, they gift us sweets,” says Ismail.
Outside, the street bustles with food vendors. There is a heady aroma of parippu vadais and bondas permeating the very air.
Says Sahul Hameed, a bonda seller, “We get good business only during this time of the year. The rest of the year, it is pretty dull and hard to pull on.”
At the Eswaran Kovil Street, there are at least five vandis, selling khaima vadais, an iftar delicacy made of minced beef. “No time for conversations. Come in the morning. I am busy now,” Javed Bhai says as he puts a fresh batch into the simmering oil. He and his wife are running the business. Javed’s crunchy khaima vadais have a loyal fan following.
A group of children huddle around the chicken tikka vandi of Adil Ahmed, a Marathi cook. Adil’s tikkas are marinated in a paste made with curd base in the Gulf style, he says. “I do not use any artificial ingredient. My tikkas are healthy and tasty,” he assures me.
After working for many five star hotels in India and abroad, Adil decided to be his own boss. “I am happy, now. At least I am doing something of my own,” he says. He wants to settle in Coimbatore with his family. “It is peaceful here and every religion is respected.”
At Lucky bakery there is a more colourful fare. Ubaid bhai greets everyone with a glass of cool, pink jigarthanda. He has put up a special iftaar shamiana which serves snacks such as kheema roti, custard puddings, tender coconut jelly and milk shakes. But jigarthandai is the star, says bhai. “Those, who finish their namaz at one in the morning come here and have a glass of jigarthanda. It works like a charm and keeps them fresh throughout the day.” Bhai’s Royal Ghadbad ice cream, of multiple flavours, fruits and nuts is also popular among the young crowd.
From Speed Ali’s Busy Food Biryani at Vincent road comes an aroma of flavoured masalas, cardamom and cloves. No one leaves Kottamedu without a packet of chicken and beef biryani from here.
It is a favourite halt of foreigners, especially Sudanese students, because this is the only shop here that serves halal meat. Speed Ali, who gets his name apparently for his “quick service” serves me the sarbath. The restaurant, started by his father, is 15 years old and now he and his brothers are helming it. On Ramzan this place is flooded, he says. “All, irrespective of religion or caste, are welcome. We will be serving a special poosinikkai halwa along with biryani. The place is filled with tents serving food to street children and poor people. It gets so crowded that there will be traffic jam on this road!”